TOKYO/GENEVA: The Omicron variant of coronavirus carries a "very high" global risk of surges, the WHO warned on Monday, as more countries reported cases, prompting border closures and reviving worries about the economic recovery from a two-year pandemic, reports Reuters.
Scientists have said it could take weeks to understand the severity of Omicron, which was first identified in southern Africa. Its emergence has caused a strong global reaction, with countries imposing travel curbs and other restrictions, worried that it could spread fast even in vaccinated populations.
"The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high," the World Health Organization advised its 194 member nations, warning of "severe consequences" in some areas.
It said no deaths linked to Omicron variant had been reported so far.
A top South African infectious disease expert said Omicron appears to be more transmissible than previous variants, including to people with immunity from vaccination or prior infection. South African cases are likely to top 10,000 a day this week, rocketing up from 2,858 on Sunday and barely 300 a day two weeks ago, Professor Salim Abdool Karim said.
But he added that it was too early to say whether symptoms were more severe and said existing COVID-19 vaccines are probably effective at stopping Omicron from causing severe illness.
On Sunday, a South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a new strain said Omicron appeared so far to be producing mild symptoms.
A number of countries have imposed travel restrictions, including Japan, which described its action as precautionary.
"These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety's sake, until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.